Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Michael Meacher MP, Minister of State (Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Thank you for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 7 November which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 2 December. We are surprised that there has been such a delay in depositing this document. Can you tell us why this happened?

  Sub-Committee B has scrutinised that part of the proposal which relates to further constraints on the use of Chromium VI in the manufacture of cement.

  We well understand the potential benefit of these proposals for those individuals who would, as result of the measures in the proposed Directive, henceforth be shielded from the risk of contracting allergic dermatitis. However, as your Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) demonstrates, there is considerable uncertainty about the number of new cases reported each year. One estimate puts forward an average figure of 43 while your RIA simply assumes that this is a ten-fold under-reporting of the true position. This does not appear to be a robust basis for calculating the likely benefits of this proposal to set against the costs.

  We think that the issue of costs and benefits needs to be clarified. We should be grateful to learn how the Government intends to address the concerns the UK cement manufacturing industry has raised, and how these are weighed in the balance of the UK's overall interests.

  In the meantime, the Scrutiny reserve on this document is maintained.

?? ??????? ????

Letter to the Chairman from Michael Meacher MP

  Thank you for your letter of 4 December 2002 which asked why there was a delay in depositing the explanatory memorandum (EM) for consideration by Sub Committee B.

  The deadlines for EMs are set by DEFRA's EU co-ordination team in conjunction with the Cabinet Office. In this case the Commission document was published on 16 August 2002 and sent to Council secretariat who issued it on 2 September 2002. The Cabinet Office commissioned the EM on 24 October 2002 with a deadline of 7 November 2002, which was duly met. The EM then went to the House of Commons who cleared it on 27 November and to the House of Lords on 19 November who sifted it to Sub Committee B for consideration at its 2 December meeting. As you can see from this timetable the main delay was between the Council secretariat and Cabinet Office and due to the delays that occur as a result of the summer recess.

  You also raised the need to clarify the costs and benefits discussed in the draft initial Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA), which had been based on an estimate that the actual number of cases of allergic dermatitis attributed to chromate cement each year were 10 times greater than reported in the currently available statistics.

  The response from HSE who lead on this element of the directive is that there is no national scheme for the reporting of all cases of occupational dermatitis resulting from cement exposure. Under these circumstances it is necessary to estimate the number of cases. When the draft RIA was prepared the best information available was from the EPIDERM database which is a voluntary scheme of ill health reporting from some consultant dermatologists. The "base" estimate of 43 cases derives from this scheme. The extent to which this figure reflects the actual incidence of the disease is uncertain and is inevitably a matter of judgement on which HSE took expert advice.

  Using a core sample necessarily requires the figures to be multiplied up in order to reflect a figure for the working population or industrial sector as a whole and that was done on this occasion. There is also known to be a level of under-reporting of incidents of ill health in the UK construction sector, although the extent of this under-reporting is also difficult to assess. The 10-fold increase over the EPIDERM figure quoted in the draft initial RIA was a legitimate and reasonable assumption of the number of allergic and mixed allergic and irritant contact dermatitis cases attributable to chromate cement.

  HSE consulted widely on the draft initial RIA during September and October 2002. It has recently received a number of responses, most extensively from the UK cement manufacturing industry. As part of its consultative responsibilities, HSE is currently considering these responses together with the new evidence provided by the latest statistics.

  HSE has given an undertaking to resubmit the draft RIA if substantial amendments are required as a result of consultation, and if appropriate to recommend a revised negotiating position.

  You also asked how the Government intends to address the concerns of the UK cement manufacturing industry and how these are weighed in the balance of the UK's overall interests. HSE has held extensive discussions with the industry and their concerns have been reflected in the UK's draft negotiating position. The EU negotiations on this draft directive have now begun and in discussions the UK has sought to clarify the scope of the proposed restrictions and continues to seek further discussion and reassurance on concerns raised by the industry. These negotiations aim to balance the desired reduction in the number of cases of allergic contact dermatitis caused by cement with the need to maintain and enhance the competitiveness of the UK's cement manufacturing industry.

  HSE remains in contact with industry representatives and will continue to consult with them and other stakeholders as the negotiations progress.

10 March 2003

Letter from the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter dated 10 March 2003 which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 17 March.

  We are grateful for the explanation that you have given about the delay in depositing this document.

  We need to see the regulatory impact assessment (RIA) before we can consider lifting the Scrutiny reserve. We note the points you have made about the basis on which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has estimated the total number of cases of occupational dermatitis resulting from exposure to cement. We would welcome an explanation as to why sample figures for cases have been multiplied tenfold to reach an estimate of cases for the purposes of the RIA. On the face of it, this multiplier is neither legitimate, nor reasonable, nor based on scientific procedures.

  We note that the HSE received extensive responses from the UK cement industry and that these are still being considered by the HSE. We would be interested to know the burden of those responses.

  We should be grateful for a response to the above points and for an account of negotiations before these papers are taken at the next council. In the meantime, the Scrutiny reserve on this document is maintained.

21 March 2003

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003